RNLI gives medical help to Inishturk island resident

Call comes days after islanders highlighted concerns about lack of nurse over Christmas

The RNLI Clifden lifeboat was tasked to provide medical assistance to an elderly resident on Inishturk island off the Mayo coast on Tuesday night, just days after islanders highlighted the fact that they have no nurse over Christmas.

Clifden GP Dr Ciarán MacLoughlin was transported to the island 14.5 km offshore to assist the resident who required “urgent and immediate” medical attention, according to the RNLI.

“The swift response of Clifden RNLI meant that the man did not have to be moved to hospital for treatment and is now recovering well at home” Dr MacLoughlin said.

It was the first call-out for the new all-weather lifeboat which has been assigned to Clifden's volunteer lifeboat crew in Co Galway.


The lifeboat was alerted at 6pm on Tuesday and launched with Dr MacLoughlin onboard, returning to Clifden after 11pm.

“We travelled there and back in complete darkness and their actions ensured that I could administer care to my patient on scene and not have to move him,“Dr MacLoughlin said, paying tribute to the lifeboat crew.

Inishturk, with 58 residents, has had no basic medical cover since September of this year, and the Irish Island Federation says it reflects a wider issue relating to cutbacks in island health services.

Its previous nurse of 30 years was due to retire last December, but stayed on until this September at the request of HSE West.

HSE West has said that its national recruitment service is “currently processing a replacement nurse for appointment to the island” and says “this is being prioritised”. “We have sought locum cover through a nursing agency, and the agency is actively seeking to recruit a nurse to provide temporary cover,”HSE West said.

“In the meantime planned essential nursing services are provided from the mainland,“it said, including cover by Dr MacLoughlin, while it noted that the island had trained first responders in case of an emergency.

However, Inishturk community worker Mary Heanue told The Irish Times that several promises had already been made which had not been fulfilled by HSE West.

“We are at our wits end,” she said earlier this week, pointing out that one of the residents is five months pregnant, and 30 extra people with small children are expected on the island, which is very exposed, over Christmas.

The island federation points out that it is symptomatic of a wider problem, which it had hoped to discuss with the HSE West, but planned meetings have been deferred.

Residents of Árainn Mhór, Co Donegal had to mobilise the community earlier this year to resist cutbacks to vital public health nursing cover.

“The community on Inis Oírr, Co. Galway has had medical cover reduced since April,“the federation said. The southernmost Aran island had a resident public health nurse providing five-day cover, but now has a registered general nurse who travels to the island twodays a week, weather permitting.

"Cape Clear, Co Cork faces similar challenges to this essential service and islanders across the country are extremely worried that any furtherreduction in services will have a disproportionate impact on already fragile communities,"the federation said.

Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann chairman Mairtín Ó Méalóid of Cape Clear said that “islanders of necessity must have qualified medical professionals available in thecase of medical need or outright emergency”.

“Comhdháil believes that the provision of nursing services, and indeed the assurance of continuation of these vital services, is andalways will be a key element to the sustainability of our island communities,“he said.

” We need a clear and firm islands policy on a national level to ensure continued service provision, and to eliminate the existing uncertainty around health services,” he said.

Asked why promised discussions had not yet taken place with the federation, HSE West said that a decision had been taken to conduct a national, rather than a local, review of all island services in 2015, involving internal and external stakeholders and including representatives of island residents.

“This review will ensure that there is a nationally agreed range of primary care services which can be provided to offshore islands and will include identifying how to provide these services in the most effective manner,“HSE West said. This is included in the 2015 operational plan for the national primary care division, it said.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times